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16th Jun 2024

Premier League referee shares heart-warming story in tribute to Matija Sarkic after the young keeper’s tragic death

Harry Warner

Sarkic ‘did him like a kipper’

Former Premier League referee Bobby Madley has shared a touching tribute to Matija Sarkic following the tragic death of the 26-year-old Millwall goalkeeper.

Sarkic died on Saturday morning after suddenly falling ill in Montenegro only 10 days after playing for Montenegro in an international friendly against Belgium.

The young goalkeeper was British-born, qualifying to play for Montenegro through his father, an important factor in Bobby Madley’s great story about the shot stopper.

In a tribute to Sarkic on X, the referee wrote:

“I met Matija in 2016 when refereeing my first U19 Euros qualifying game between Montenegro and France. Matija was the captain which, as a goalkeeper, isn’t always the easiest for a referee.

“Standing in the tunnel before the game Matija came down and shook hands. Given that my grasp of the Montenegrin language wasn’t the best, in a shocking broken English accent I tried to explain to Matija with many hand gestures and ridiculous facial expressions that as a captain and goalkeeper it would be hard to work with him.

“My question of ‘Is there player in team, speak English, maybe can speak with me if problem today?’ was met with a blank look from Matija. I tried again with even worse broken English and the stone look remained on his face.”

“I was defeated. I looked at Matija and said clearly I’m wasting my time and getting nowhere. Matija half smiled. He replied in a strong Balkan accent, ‘Nine. Speak English him’.

“Delighted and very proud of myself I replied ‘Ah you understand English little. This is good. He speak good English?’ Matija smiled and replied… ‘Yeah, it’s not bad, it’s my brother Oliver, we’re from Grimsby…I just wanted to see how long you’d carry that nonsense on’. He’d done me like a kipper.”

Tributes for the goalkeeper poured in on social media.

Notably Matija Sarkic’s twin brother Oliver Sarkic, who plays his football in Montenegro, wrote: “Thank you everyone for the love and support shown to Matija and our family. Really shows the amazing person he was. I wish he was still here with us I but couldn’t be more proud to say he was my twin brother. Life won’t be the same without you. Rest in peace, we love you.”

Matija Sarkic spent time on the books at Aston Villa and Wolves where he made three cup appearances, before moving to Millwall last season. He received 9 caps for his nation.

Millwall said in statement that they are “devasted” by the news of Sarkic’s passing, writing:

“A Montenegro international, Matija proudly represented his country on numerous occasions.

“Everyone at the club sends their love and condolences to Matija’s family and friends at this immensely sad time.

“The club will make no further comment at this time and asks that the privacy of Matija’s family is respected.”

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